First the Bad news...
I just spoke with Minnesota Valley NWR manager, Charlie Blair, regarding the new fence at Black Dog. As feared, Xcel Energy is placing the entire plant area off limits to the public for security and safety reasons. Refuge trail access will now be ONLY from the Cliff Fen parking lot !! The public will no longer be able to park at Black Dog Park and walk over the RR tracks to the causeway. Apparently signs will be erected in the near future stating trespass conditions. The foot bridge was dismantled and removed for safety reasons and the RR folks said that if people are allowed to cross over the tracks to access the trails they, the RR, would have to blow their whistle no matter what time of day or night. Local residents protested such whistle blowing and Xcel decided to just halt all access. Case closed. Like I said in an earlier posting...Black Day at Black Dog. Charlie will send me a contact at Xcel whom I plan to discuss this with further. I'll keep you posted.
Now, for the "good" news (well, sort of)...
Black Dog Lake, looking east from causeway, usual gull viewing area.
Sunday, Dec. 6 - From about 4:40-5:00pm, Bruce Fall and I observed a dark-mantled gull about 250m (Google Earth ruler) away and under low and diminishing light conditions. The bird was slightly larger than almost all of the Herring Gulls present. The mantle color was gray-black, not as dark black as expected for Great or Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The bill was similar in size and shape as HERG, ie. it was not thick or bulbous. The proximal 2/3 of the bill was pale whereas the distal 1/3 was black, indicating a possible 3rd cycle bird. It was in the water and the legs were not seen. It flapped briefly twice but I could not detect any obvious primary markings, other than the outer primaries appeared mostly dark. However, distance and lighting were bad. The white tertial crescent was similar in width to HERGs. The head shape was rather round with a long sloping forehead. Some dusky mottling was apparent on the rear crown and nape, but I noticed none around the eye under these poor viewing conditions. We both speculated that 3rd- or possibly 4th-cycle Slaty-backed Gull seemed like the best possibility barring some sort of hybrid combination. But we left undecided and agreed that better views were needed.
Monday, Dec. 7 - I refound the gull almost immediately when I arrived at 4:20pm. Doug Kieser arrived shortly thereafter. The gull was closer, perhaps 150-175 m, and was surrounded by hundreds of mostly HERGs. The size was reconfirmed as slightly larger (~5-10%) than HERGs. There was a definite ring of dark feathers surrounding the eye, but eye color was not confirmed. The legs were seen several times and were pink, but not noticeably different than HERG...although lighting and angle was not good for determining relative degree of pinkness. The bird flew twice and we both felt the wing was mostly dark above with less-than-distinct white tongues on P5-7. P9 and P8 showed no obvious white markings, but again, conditions were not the best. We did not notice the tail as we both focused on the primary pattern. Some 3rd cycle SBGU can show very little if any mirror pattern in the primaries and the tertial crescent width is somewhat less than that of an adult (Olsen and Larsson). Subtle brownish tones were evident in the greater and median coverts. Comparing a single head photo taken by Doug, it is obvious this NOT the same 3rd-cycle SBGU recently seen in Duluth. The Duluth bird was also much more heavily mottled on the head and breast and its bill much darker through its length than the Black Dog bird.
I am hopeful that today's blizzard will keep this bird in the area for a while and that others can see it from existing Black Dog road access points. Ugh.
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